How do you relieve sciatic nerve pain? Can exercise help?

pope skip new year sciatica

Sciatica is making the news again with Whoopi Goldberg taking time off because of leg pain. During an interview, she said:

“I’m telling you, it’s like a bad boyfriend who came back to mess with me. There I was trying to move my leg, impossible to do. It was really horrible, but I’m glad to be here.”

If you think she’s exaggerating, she not. The Pope also suffers from sciatic pain, and receives regular massages and injections for relief. In fact, he skipped New Year’s liturgies this year because of “very painful, very painful” sciatica.

It is true that nerve pain can be debilitating. The good news is that you can work yourself towards feeling better!

Changing sleeping position

To relieve sciatic pain at night, you can experiment with different sleeping posture.

Most patients find sleeping on their side helpful. Using a pillow between the knees can further relieve your symptom experience.

If you prefer to sleep on your back, putting a pillow behind the knees can reduce some of the irritation to your spinal nerves.

While none of these strategies would make your problem go away, it can improve your sleep quality which can directly help you feel better!

Practising progressive loading.

One thing that we cannot stop emphasising is that the body is robust and adaptable.

It is true that from research we still don’t exactly know what works the best for sciatica. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot take small steps to help yourself recover.

For most sciatic pain patients, traditional lower back pain exercises are often too intense and will likely aggravate your symptom experience.

woman doing a push upTo start, upper body exercises like push up or light weight bench press would be a great start. You don’t want to load up the low back or pelvic area too soon.

Once you are comfortable with regular upper body workouts, you can slowly progress to more low back specific exercises such as squats or even rack pulls.

Keeping positive, maintaining a growth mindset.

growth mindset

Honestly, it’s very hard to find success if you don’t give yourself any hope at finding some.

Why would anyone bother to try something if they think they will fail?

Sure, people may allow themselves to “fail” when they are learning how to ride a bicycle for the first time. However, the expectation is that they will become good at it with practice.

This is hope.

yerkes–Dodson law

You may argue that some stress (also known as arousal) is good for you. You’d be right — some stress can indeed be beneficial.

When it gets too much though? We start to see your results falling.

Hope is important. As much as possible, try to keep positive and don’t let your setbacks or flare-ups stop you from trying.

Don’t forget, chronic pain (any unpleasant experiences lasting more than 12 weeks) will involve psychosocial factors.

Surgery is not the ultimate solution.

I am quite thankful for clients who choose to seek conservative treatments (e.g., exercise) before resorting to orthopaedic surgery.

Although exercise hasn’t been proven to be 100% effective at improving nerve pain, you get lots of other benefits with exercise — a sense of control, improve function, better physical health, improve mood, some normalcy of life.

While they may not independently make your pain better, they do collectively make a difference.

A bus driver client whom I worked with came in with severe radiculopathy. For a bus driver, having nerve pain is a big deal!

His symptoms were so bad that he had been told for many years that surgery was his only option. Some of the exercises we did together were 10/10 painful during the session.

After lots of encouragement, family support, hard work, and blind faith, he did get back to driving a bus okay. He is 100% sciatica-free.

Yes, I cannot promise you that you will get results. What I can advise is that exercise is a l0w-risk treatment that is worth your best shot.

Don’t let your age hold your back.

80 year old man with sciatica
Age is just a number. You can be 80, and be fit and pain-free.

People often making passing comments on their pain being the result of ageing. Sure, you can be older and in pain. That doesn’t mean you cannot be older and be also pain-free.

Don’t forget, life expectancy for Singaporeans is highest in the world at 84 years old. While you may feel old, reality is that you still have a couple more decades to go.

You probably don’t want to be living in pain for the rest of your life.

What better time to start than now!


Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, Chiropractor Jesse Cai found Square One Active Recovery to deliver meaningful and sustainable pain solutions.

Our goal? To make our own services redundant to you.

*We do not offer temporary pain relief such as chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, or any form of soft tissue therapy.